Friday, April 3, 2009

Chapter 27: Sorry, We Are Fully Booked

With our mind set on going to South Korea, the next step would be to book our air tickets. Nicky searched the Internet and noted down the telephone numbers of two major travel agencies. He picked up the phone and dialed the first number.

“Hello, SD Travel. How may I help you?”
“Hi, I would like to enquire on the flights to South Korea.”
“Hold on while I put you through to ticketing.”

Nicky was put on some call waiting advertisements and a few minutes later, a guy with a husky voice answered the phone.

“Hello, can I help you?”
“Hi, I would like to enquire on the flights to South Korea.”
“Which airline are you looking for?”
“Singapore Airlines.”
“How many people are going?”
“There are five of us.”
“Which day do you want to depart on?”
“On the twenty-second of December.”
“On which day do you want to return to Singapore?”
“On the third of January.”
“Okay, hold on a minute.”

Nicky was put on some more call waiting advertisements again and a few more minutes later, the guy with a husky voice returned to the phone.

“Sorry sir, the flights on Singapore Airlines are all fully booked for that period.”
“Erm… then how about Cathay Pacific?”
“Also fully booked.”
“We don’t have any Quantas flights going to Seoul.”
“Okay, so which are the airlines left with vacancies?”
“You can take GE Airlines. Anyway it is cheaper.”

It seemed like we were defeated by the quick Singaporeans again. Singaporeans’ favorite pastime for December is to travel with their friends and families. With the school holidays and Christmas season, it is a good time for the parents to bring their kids out to see the world. Tour packages to popular destinations like Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Hong Kong and of course, South Korea, can be easily snapped up pretty early. That means you have a higher chance to see a Singaporean than Mickey Mouse in Tokyo Disneyland in December.

I remembered that when I was a kid, my parents used to take me overseas for the holiday break as well. However those were simple and inexpensive bus trips to the various parts of the nearby Malaysia, like Genting Highlands, Cameron Highlands and Penang. Kids nowadays are so much more fortunate. Due to fierce competitions and opening of air routes, air tickets are getting cheaper and Singaporeans are traveling further. In the past, traveling to the United States of America was a privilege reserved only for the rich. In fact, if you could afford a trip to Bangkok, you must be earning quite a bit. Now, most kids would have already been to Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan and some even Europe. My little nephew was only nine years old, and he had already seen the snow in Toronto. But this kid had no idea where on earth was Cameron Highlands.

When Choi finished his conference call and walked over, Nicky told him that we had managed to book our flight on GE Airlines. Choi’s eyes opened real wide. His look definitely did not bode well for the airline.

“Why are we flying on GE Airlines?” Choi asked. “Can’t we take other airlines?”
“Nope, the rest are already fully booked,” Nicky replied.
“All fully booked? Even Singapore Airlines?”
“What’s wrong with GE Airlines?”
“My friend had been on Korean Airlines before. Their seats are freaking small! And you won’t have your personal television panel! You’ve to watch your in-flight movies on the shared projector screen with the other passengers and you can’t switch channels!”
“What? No personal television?” Sally hollered.
“Nicky, are you sure that all flights on Singapore Airlines are fully booked?” Choi asked Nicky again.
“Yeh, that’s what the travel agency guy told me!”
“Maybe it is because of the vast number of tour packages going to South Korea? I heard that most tour packages have been fully booked,” Kah Leng suggested.
“No, I don’t think so,” said Choi. “Our travel agencies are not that generous. I don’t suppose they will allow their customers on those tour packages to travel on Singapore Airlines. That will eat too much into their margins.”

Choi closed his eyes, lowered his head, and folded his arms. A minute later, he looked up at us and said: “Maybe we should try our luck on the Singapore Airlines website directly.”

With a few typing on the keyboard and a few clicks on the mouse, Nicky launched the Singapore Airlines website. He keyed in our traveling dates, the number of passengers and clicked on search. About a minute later, a table appeared with several dates, timing and prices on it. There were vacancies on the Singapore Airlines flights.

“Geez, that travel agency guy lied to me!” Nicky was miffed.
“I don’t think he lied to you though,” I said. “I believe that Singapore Airlines has allocated certain number of seats to the different travel agencies in the country and saved some for its direct sales on the Internet.”

With the website, we were glad that we could choose our departing and returning dates and times comfortably, without having the travel agency staff to put us on hold while he did the checking.

“Let’s take this one that departs Singapore at 11:45p.m. on the previous night and arrives at Seoul at 6:55p.m.,” Kah Leng suggested. “In that case, we won’t waste our day time flying.”
“But that’s the most expensive flight!” Nicky objected. “Look! If we were to take this night flight, it’ll amount to S$1,200 per person. However, if we were to take the morning eight o’clock flight instead, it’ll only cost us S$750!”
“Wow, that’s a five hundred dollars difference!” Choi exclaimed.
“Yah, I think it is not worth it as well,” I commented. “I could give up the five hours lead time to save five hundred dollars. And anyway, the problem about night flight is that, even if you could reach the destination earlier, you’ll most probably be too exhausted from the night flight to enjoy yourself in the morning.”
“Oh… I thought we could save some time,” Kah Leng mused.
“Hey girl, relax! We’re not on the Amazing Race! We’re there to rest and relax! Why push yourself so hard?” Nicky patted Kah Leng’s shoulder.
“Okay, let’s take the eight o’clock morning flight then,” Kah Leng gave in.

“Then how about the returning flight? Which timing should we take?” Nicky asked.
“Take the latest one!” Kah Leng insisted. “If I can’t reach there early, I want to leave there late!”
“Hahaha… Okay, I’ll tick the latest one at 16:20pm,” said Nicky as he continued to book the tickets.

Finally, we had booked our air tickets to Seoul successfully. It was then the time to talk about accommodation.

“Hey guys, let me tell you this before you book our hotels,” said Kah Leng. “I don’t like small hotel rooms. There was this once when I was given this free hotel stay in Hong Kong when I booked a flight that had a stopover in Hong Kong. That hotel was so small that I could not breathe in it! Just a few steps from the room door, my feet could touch the bed! There was no wardrobe to put my luggage and there was only this fourteen inches television that was built into the wall! And that’s not the worst part. The bathroom was so small that I could barely turn when I showered! Choi, I think you’ll be stuck in that bathroom cum toilet for sure!”
“And I assume that you checked out of the hotel immediately by the next morning?” I asked.
“Of course! I gave up the one more night free stay in that hotel and checked into Ritz Carlton!” said the exasperated Kah Leng.

Kah Leng had this obsession over Ritz Carlton hotels. Her preferred hotel to stay in every city was Ritz Carlton. She had stayed at the Ritz Carlton hotels at Philadelphia, Dubai, Hong Kong, Bali, Kuala Lumpur and of course Singapore. When she was in London for holidays last year, she wanted to stay at The Ritz. However she was forced to give it up because the room cost four hundred pounds, which is equivalent to over a thousand Singapore dollars.

“By the way, I heard that there’s a Ritz Carlton hotel in Seoul,” said Kah Leng.
“Yah, there is. And my friend had stayed there previously,” said Choi. “But the room rate is rather expensive. It’s about four hundred Singapore dollars for a night.”
“That sounds reasonable to me,” said Kah Leng.

The other four of us stared at Kah Leng with our eyes wide opened.

“Erm… Kah Leng, we’re not really thinking of a luxurious tour in South Korea,” I said.
“We’re actually thinking of staying in some three or at most, four stars hotels,” Nicky added.
“But don’t worry though. We’ll try to get those whose rooms are not as small as the one that freaked you out in Hong Kong, okay?” I tried to console her.

Kah Leng pondered upon our words for a while, and then smiled and said: “It is okay, guys. I’ll stay in Ritz Carlton Seoul when I tour Seoul again with my boy friend in the future.”

Nicky picked up the phone again and dialed the number of the second travel agency on the list. That agency was known to have pretty good deals for accommodations.

“Welcome to CZ Travel. Please press one for packaged tours, two for free and easy and three for ticketing.”

Since there was no option for hotels booking, Nicky pressed three.

“Please press one for U.S., two for Europe, three for China and four for South East Asia.”

Nicky pressed four.

“Hello, how can I help you?”
“Hi, I would like to enquire on South Korea hotels, in Seoul.”
“Okay, hold on a minute.”

While on hold, Nicky heard some typing on the background noise, followed by the lady on the phone asking somebody about hotels in South Korea.

“Which day do you want to check in?”
“On the thirty-first of December.”
“On which day do you want to check out?”
“On the third of January.”
“How many rooms?”
“Two double occupancies”
“Okay, hold on a minute.”

A few minutes later, the lady returned to the phone and said: “Sorry but there’s no more vacancy at the Seoul hotels in that period.”

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